The Big Ten wrapped up one of the most unique seasons in conference history. Along the way to a shortened season, a handful of players with NFL aspirations chose to sit out the season and focus on staying healthy and ready for the draft. That included some of the conference's top players on both sides of the football. And now that the season is in the books, we know just how many players are not only not taking advantage of an extra year of eligibility allowed by the NCAA, but how many are actually leaving early.
Not surprisingly, the Big Ten will be sending off some terrific pro-caliber players on offense and defense this year, which means big shoes to fill across the conference. Here is a look at some of the more notable players deciding to leave their Big Ten schools with remaining eligibility and who may step up in their place in 2021.
Gone: Justin Fields, QB
Fields certainly delivered on the hype in Columbus. Previously one of the most sought-after quarterback recruits, Fields relished in the opportunity to shine in his time in a Buckeye uniform, and now he is heading off to the NFL as one of the top quarterback prospects at the next level.
In: C.J. Stroud
Ohio State will have some young options to choose from in replacing Fields, barring any potential prizes through the transfer portal. But for now, Stroud feels like a safe pick to be the leader in the clubhouse heading into the spring. Kyle McCord may eventually be the guy in the future, but Stroud likely moves forward atop the depth chart.
Gone: Micah Parsons, LB
One of the best defensive players in the country didn't play at all in 2020. Parsons opted out of the season and began focusing on his NFL draft prep. Parsons was a monster for the Nittany Lions prior to his opting out, but not playing at all last year gave Penn State a chance to break in his replacement.
In: Jesse Luketa
Luketa ended up being the player tasked with filling in for Parsons, and he performed admirably. The four-star recruit in Penn State's 2018 class certainly isn't a scrub walk-on. Luketa was Penn State's second-leading tackler in 2020 and will remain a part of the linebacker nucleus on the defense in 2021.
Gone: Shaun Wade, CB
Wade deciding to return to Ohio State for another year, and opting back in after initially opting out, was a huge boost for the Buckeyes. Although he struggled in some spots against the top receivers he faced this season, he will remain a tough player to replace for the Buckeyes in the secondary.
In: Sevyn Banks
If there is something to be said about Ohio State's roster, it is that it is not lacking in star power. Banks was a 4-star recruit in the 2018 class and will now be expected to get his chance to shine in pass protection. Banks had one interception last season, and it came in the College Football Playoff semifinal victory against Clemson.
Gone: Rondale Moore, WR
Purdue had a lethal passing attack with Moore and David Bell as the primary targets, but that will not be the case in 2021. Moore opted out during the season to begin ensuring his health and safety ahead of an NFL future. Bell handled things just fine but the task is to now find a complementary receiver that can take some of the pressure off Bell to do everything.
In: TJ Sheffield
With a spot to fill in the offense, Sheffield may get an opportunity to contribute. Sheffield has yet to play in a game for the Boilermakers, but his time to give it a crack may have arrived.
Gone: Rashod Bateman, WR
Speaking of some of the Big Ten's top receivers, Bateman also is off to the NFL. Bateman led the Gophers with 472 receiving yards in just five games played. This was after putting up 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2019.
In: Daniel Jackson
Chris Autman-Bell is already cemented as one of Minnesota's top targets after a good showing the past two years. But Jackson should continue to see his role increase in the offense after a fine 2020 season. Jackson caught 12 passes for 167 yards, but he should get more opportunities starting this fall.
Gone: Pat Freiermuth, TE
One of the Big Ten's top tight ends didn't exactly have the kind of season he had hoped for in 2020. But Freiermuth is ready to carry on a pretty good recent lineage of tight ends from Happy Valley to the NFL.
In: Brenton Strange
When Freiermuth was removed from the field last season due to injury, Strange emerged as Penn State's next potential breakout star at tight end. Strange finished the season fourth on Penn State in receiving yards and third in touchdown receptions.
Gone: Daviyon Nixon, DT
How do you replace the Big Ten's defensive player of the year? Iowa is about to find out. Nixon declared for the NFL while his stock was about as high as it can get. The All-American figures to be a force at the next level after recording the most tackles for a loss in the conference in 2020.
In: Noah Shannon
Backing up Nixon on the Iowa depth chart last season was Shannon. He may not quite size up to Nixon, but Shannon still has the potential to eat up space on the line and be tough to get around.
Gone: Stevie Scott, RB
One of the key players for Indiana's recent success is turning pro. Scott is dashing his way to the NFL after a career with 30 rushing touchdowns in Bloomington. He does so at the same time Indiana is also losing running backs coach Mike Hart to his alma mater, Michigan.
In: Tim Baldwin Jr.
The next likely player to carry the load of the rushing duties for head coach Tom Allen could be last year's second-leading rusher. Baldwin appeared in just four games but that was enough to finish the year second behind Scott. Baldwin already has a 100-yard game under his belt after rushing for 106 yards against Maryland this past November.
Gone: Nico Collins, WR
Collins was among the Big Ten's more notable players to opt out of the 2020 season entirely, so the Wolverines already started to figure out how to replace him in the passing game. Collins was Michigan's second-leading receiver in 2019 and led the team in touchdown catches.
In: Cornelius Johnson
In the absence of Collins last year, Michigan saw the beginning of the rise of Johnson. It was a tough season for Michigan's offense, but Johnson led the team with three touchdown catches and was the team's second-leading receiver.
Gone: Tommy Togiai, DE
Ohio State's pipeline of defensive linemen continues to shine with Togiai. He is moving on the carry on the Buckeye legacy on the defensive line after a solid season in the trenches for the national championship runners-up.
In: Jerron Cage
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day may have already made the decision if the national championship game is any indication. With Togiai unavailable, Ohio State started Cage in his place against Alabama. The Buckeyes will have a handful of options for defensive line coach Larry Johnson to work with. And if there is one thing to trust here, it is in Johnson's ability to coach up whomever steps into the defensive line vacancy.